The Government Shutdown Was Sexist

A notice outside a federal building in Washington, D.C. stating the facility’s closure due to the government shutdown that has since been temporarily lifted ( Image )

A notice outside a federal building in Washington, D.C. stating the facility’s closure due to the government shutdown that has since been temporarily lifted (Image)


President Trump on Friday signed a short-term agreement reopening federal agencies that had been closed for 35 days, constituting the longest government shutdown in American history. The estimated 800,000 federal workers directly affected by the closure were either furloughed or ordered to work without pay. The White House stated on Sunday that all workers who went unpaid over the five-week period would receive back pay, though acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said the timing would depend on the responsiveness of the government’s multiple payroll providers.

The suffering endured by government employees, subcontractors, and their families will hopefully reach some sense of closure with the arrival of their missing paychecks. But in other ways, this particularly harsh and unnecessary government shutdown inordinately harmed the most vulnerable, and perhaps none more than women.

Some of the most acute effects of the shutdown are explicitly and directly harmful to women. Notably, an often life-saving resource which is available to most under normal conditions are Rape Crisis Centers, which provide support to women who are experiencing and emerging from trauma. The Centers serve as an emergency valve for millions of survivors, and in some cases their children. The government shutdown jeopardized the effectiveness of and funding for Rape Crisis Centers. The Violence Against Women Act, which provides grants to keep these centers operational, expired during the shutdown. That means that Rape Crisis Centers no longer had access to the necessary resources from the federal government to keep their doors open. Some centers remain afloat for now, but there is no promise of money in the near future, even with the government reopened.

Even for those whose lives are not affected by such acute circumstances, the government shutdown has changed the conformation of millions of families and communities in a way that distributes the burden largely onto women. Most notably, many women who are federal employees or contractors affected by the government shutdown worked two unpaid jobs over the period of closure. The division of labor in most households is still such that women spend 50 or 60 percent more time than men doing the vital work that props up the home. This statistic does not take into account the countless hours women dedicate to being a project manager for their families -- the mental load robs women in heterosexual relationships of the ability to ever truly unwind, as they are constantly tasked with feeding, scheduling, and other vital tasks required to run a household. The work women do in the home is seldom acknowledged or praised, and still never compensated, and now the work these women do professionally will go totally uncompensated as well. For over a month, women in this position were forced to feed their families by picking up an additional job or forgoing important bills, while juggling childcare and other burdens of being a woman with a family.

The Editorial Board would be remiss, while lamenting this tragedy, not to note that the people most actively at fault for the shutdown are men. In December negotiations, President Trump expected that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would be more receptive of his demands, in a demeanor that was equally paternalistic as inconsiderate. President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had the ability to bring the shutdown to a halt at any point, and the saga was rendered even more worthless when the President agreed to a temporary deal nearly identical to the one proposed five weeks ago with no wall funding intact.

The past month and change has provided myriad examples of how our institutions consistently sacrifice or ignore the most vulnerable people in a dangerously pernicious way. This episode in particular well captures the flippancy of those in power toward the lives and livelihoods of women. This shutdown was, as it started and as it ended, sexist.